The Jenna Ortega ‘Miller’s Girl’ Age-Gap Discourse Is Out of Control

Zac Popik
Zac Popik

If you spend too much time on the internet, it can start to feel like everyone is talking about age gaps all the time—and if they’re not talking about them, they must be solemnly thinking about them. This week, the discourse has regrettably come for one of our most beloved and promising stars, Jenna Ortega. Her latest movie, Miller’s Girl, is trending on Netflix after its release earlier this year; it features a sexual relationship between her character, the ridiculously named “Cairo Sweet,” and her literature professor, played by the much older Martin Freeman.

According to various publications, viewers are reeling from the scandalous relationship in this movie—the word “controversial” has really seen its stock rise this week—but, to be honest, normal people on the internet don’t seem to care. So, wherefore all the coverage? Apparently, the alleged furor over this movie has gotten so bad that Martin Freeman is out in the online streets teaching basic media literacy, and yet, I have not seen a single post about this pop up on my timeline organically. Is this what happens when we stop teaching critical thinking in schools, or is the entertainment media world just short on newsworthy topics to cover this week?

By all accounts, Miller’s Girl is a trashy throwback thriller of questionable quality that, regardless of its level of accomplishment, should not be taken as an endorsement of student-teacher relationships. That said, it’s unclear how many people are actually sincerely “unsettled” by the film, as a headline in The Independent claimed soon after its January release. Most of the tweets cited in that particular article seem more like social media puffery than actual concern. See: “MARTIN FREEMAN WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO JENNA ORTEGA” and “I don’t like to think of Freeman having sex with anyone, let alone someone less than half his age. I imagine he is smooth inside his pants, like a Ken doll.”

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Meanwhile, The Daily Mailwhich never misses an opportunity to cover a so-called scandal—interviewed the film’s intimacy coordinator, Kristina Arjon. She hit back against the idea that the film’s intimate scene was “gross.” The tabloid also quoted a couple demonstrative tweets of its own, including, “I think I am finally done watching these age gap movies. They are all gross and I am tired of it. No amount of Jenna Ortega or Martin Freeman could save this one for me [sic].”

“There were many, many people throughout this process, engaging with [Jenna] to make sure that it was consistent with what she was comfortable with,” said Arjon, “and she was very determined and very sure of what she wanted to do.” She added, “I’m hyper aware of both of my talent and making sure that we're consistently checking in, and that at no point are any of their boundaries being surpassed. And again, making sure—especially with someone who's significantly younger—that they are giving continuous consent.”

One might think we could all chalk this up to a handful of people who should stop watching schlocky erotic thrillers and call it a day. Alas, apparently none of us is allowed to rest—including Martin Freeman.

Over the weekend, The Times published a profile of Freeman in which he was asked the obligatory question about this supposed “controversy,” re-igniting it once more. Freeman replied by insisting that the film is “grown-up and nuanced. It’s not saying, ‘Isn’t this great.’” Which, duh! Do any of us really not know that? Seriously, I cannot stress this enough: Why are we doing this?

During the interview, Freeman added that it’s a “shame” that films about thorny subjects can be subject to such misinterpretation. (No kidding.) “Are we gonna have a go at Liam Neeson,” he asked, “for being in a film about the Holocaust?”

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Naturally, because Freeman entertained the question, this tempest in a teapot has begun generating a new wave of headlines. In some ways, this might be the best publicity a film like Miller’s Girl could ask for. (What better way to promote a provocative thriller than to talk about all the people who are supposedly mad about it?) At the same time, is no one else tired of this constant cycle of half-hearted pearl clutching? Let’s just hope Jenna Ortega is wise enough not to engage. If Wednesday Addams enters the chat, we might never hear the end of it.

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